New Illegal Immigration Deal with Nigeria Raises Human Rights Concerns
A deal on deporting foreign national offenders could have serious implications when the Nationality and Borders Act criminalises certain migrants for how they enter the UK, Sian Norris reports
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The UK Government has agreed a deal with Nigeria to tackle shared illegal immigration, prompting concern from migrant rights activists.
The deal was signed the same day the UK deported 13 individuals to Nigeria, including a man who had sought asylum on the basis of his sexuality but had his claim refused.
The agreement forms part of the Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration and was described by Priti Patel as a “landmark” decision to “increase the deportation of dangerous foreign criminals to make our streets and country safer”.
Patel described the deal as “our New Plan for Immigration being put into action”. However, the plan and its associated Nationality and Borders Act have come under much scrutiny and criticism for creating an increasingly hostile environment for migrant people and those seeking asylum.
The new laws create a tiered asylum system where those who arrive via irregular routes, such as small boats across the Channel, could face criminalisation. This has major consequences for the agreement, which seeks to speed up deportations of foreign national offenders to Nigeria.
“Under the new Nationality and Borders Act, in theory when the Government talks about ‘foreign criminals’ to deport to Nigeria, they could mean anyone entering the UK via irregular means, such as crossing the Channel,” said Peter Dolby, Director of Operations at Love146, an NGO working with child victims of trafficking.
“Particularly when looked at in the context of the current situation in Nigeria, where human rights violations are rampant, this potentially raises the significant risk of children, deliberately or otherwise, being sent to a country where their lives are put at risk and they are outside of any of the recognised formal protection mechanisms which the UK has in place”.
“This is not some hypothetical,” Dolby continued. “The Home Office has already fought, and lost, a case where it attempted to refuse to bring back a mother and her five-year-old child from Nigeria under previous agreements. Removing people to a country where they face serious threats and risk to life, particularly when that may include young people, goes against the very principles of humanity and human rights we believe the UK should stand for”.
The deal will speed up the removal of foreign national offenders from the UK to Nigeria and vice versa. It will allow for emergency travel certificates or temporary passports to be issued to individuals being returned within five working days of receipt of their passport or biometric details.
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Patel also claimed that it would help in the fight against people smugglers.
“It is inconceivable that sending people, in particular young people, to a country where people being kidnapped and sold into slavery is well known about could in any way be seen as a means to tackle either trafficking or smuggling,” said Dolby.
Nigeria has long cooperated in deportations, meaning that despite the fanfare over the announcement, not much will change in terms of the relationship. The concern is that the criminalisation of crossing the Channel will lead to vulnerable people being classed as offenders, and therefore deported.
While there is no doubt Nigeria has experienced huge progress in recent decades, with a flourishing literature and cultural scene and a growing economy, particularly in the major cities, social problems and repression remain an issue. As many as four in 10 people live below the poverty line, and parts of the country are still facing violence from the Boko Haram militia group.
According to Amnesty International, people in Nigeria face numerous barriers to freedom of expression and assembly – while women and LGBTIQ people face specific discrimination. In June 2021, President Buhari ordered the shut down of Twitter, after the site deleted one of his tweets. Security forces responded with violence and aggression to protesters in the major cities of Lagos and Abuja, in what became known as the End SARS protests. Those who took part in the protests were arbitrarily detained – including Kemisola Ogunniyi, an 18-year-old woman who gave birth during her eight-month detention.
Homosexuality remains illegal in Nigeria, making it particularly dangerous for LGBTIQ people – gay men can face 14 years in prison while transgender people endure even more severe penalties. Between 2015 and 2020, a total of 898 Nigerian people claimed asylum where sexual orientation formed part of the claim. Of these, 621 were refused.
And while rates of female genital mutilation in Nigeria have halved in the past few decades, women and girls remain at risk of this and other forms of gender-based violence.
Earlier this year, UNICEF warned that FGM was rising among Nigerian girls aged 0-14. Rates have increased from 16.9% in 2013 to 19.2% in 2018, something the charity called a “worrying trend”. The national prevalence for FGM in women aged 15-49 is 20%. Nigeria ranks at 139 on the Global Gender Gap Index.
Despite the criticism of the new laws, the Government has remained bullish in its commitment to taking a hardline on migration.
In a statement, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The deal will mean that operational teams in both countries will share their expertise to take the fight to criminal people smugglers who are responsible for a wider range of criminality and put profit before people while undermining the security of our two countries”.